On Living in Joy (From History’s Point of View: The Buddha) – Part 7

The Buddha

(Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakyas)

 

All we are is the result of what we have thought.

-The Dhammapada

Unlike Jesus, the Buddha is sure to make almost anyone’s short list of historical figures who lived in joy.  The reason why is well illustrated by his life and his teachings.  The epitome of the Buddha’s teachings is shown in this example from Huston Smith’s The World Religions:

People came to the Buddha during his lifetime and asked not who, but what he was.  His answer provided not only an identity for himself, but one for his entire message. “Are you a god?” they asked.  “No.” “An angel?”  “No.”  “A saint?”  “No.”  “Then what are you?”  Buddha answered, “I am awake.”

The Buddha foretold his happiness with one phrase – “I am awake”.  But he wasn’t just awake in the same way you and I wake up from our night’s slumber.  The term he used to describe “awake” actually uses the same root in Sanskrit (“budh”) as enlightened.  Thus, the Buddha was describing that he was indeed awake; in fact, he was enlightened.  He had discovered the answers to life’s mysteries and had become infinitely joyful by doing so. From the beginning of his ministry to the end, his life was a testament to his infinite bliss.  But how are his enlightenment and infinite bliss connected?

To summarize his life, the Buddha began his life as a prince, deeply immersed in worldly pleasures.  Somewhere in his twenties, he discovered disease, old age, and death, and decided to renounce his life as a prince.  He set off for the woods, where he learned from the Great Hindu masters of the time, and after realizing he had learned all that he could from them, he became an ascetic.  After nearly dying from his extreme asceticism, he sat down under the Bodhi tree and found enlightenment.  He spent the next forty years teaching enlightenment to anyone who would listen.  He was inherently motivated to do so by the belief that there might be at least one or two persons who would listen to his teachings and learn from them.

This last sentence is a fine point as far as living in joy is concerned because I believe part of the Buddha’s joy was found in his belief that he was needed as a teacher in this world.  He could have very easily sat under the Bodhi tree, enjoying his enlightenment, for the rest of his life.  But he believed people, who inherently were suffering, needed to hear his message, and his loving compassion for them compelled him to try to teach all that he had discovered within his lifetime.  He was drawn to people, and his happiness became their happiness as well, for it was in his teachings that he showed them that happiness is the Way.

So what did his teachings encompass then?  The Buddha reiterated many concepts from Hinduism, including dharma (sacred duty) and karma (action).  However, his main teachings were primarily focused on the following concepts: the Three Jewels, buddha (enlightenment), dharma (sacred duty), and sanga (community); the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.  Two characteristics pervade these teachings, specifically reason and loving compassion.  These will be the focus of our discussion.

 

Reason

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

-Siddhartha, the Buddha

Reason is a plausible choice for the Buddha, for the religion he created is not only logical but also experimental in nature.  Thus, reason, in an enlightened sense, speaks to Buddhism’s inherent empiricism; if there is a cause, there must be an effect (Smith, 98).  Yet what do I truly mean when I use the word “reason” and how does that word link to living in joy?

Reason is often used in science as a descriptor, a term that explains how a scientist comes up with a hypothesis and how that hypothesis will be tested.  Reason, in this sense, is always inevitably linked with logic and experience.  In science, one cannot reasonably come to a hypothesis without logically building on the experience of others – through their experiments and previously tested hypotheses and theories – and on personal experience.  The Buddha focused on the latter of these foundations primarily, yet in his creation of the sangha, or community (meaning monastic community or religious order), he recognized that the former must also occur within human experience.  For the Buddha, reason derived from personal experience was the greatest testament to a person’s spiritual questioning; if a religious doctrine or belief did not speak to a person’s own experience and reason, then the Buddha would encourage that person to summarily reject it.

How is reason then linked with living in joy?  In this sense, the Buddha’s reason has a very similar outcome to Jesus’s acceptance and Rumi’s humility.  Reason, based in personal experience, allows you to systematically disconnect other’s thoughts, opinions, etc. from your own.  Thus, while searching to discern Truth via reason, you can rely solely upon your own intuition as to what is important and what is not in your spiritual walk.  However, do not mistake reason for selfishness.  Reason is not subjective, it is objective, and as such, is not colored by ego-centric tendencies.  Reason is like detachment in this sense, but we will discuss that characteristic in greater detail in the next section.

In its essence, then, reason links to joy in its lack of ownership.  Your reason allows you to understand your own experiences and desires from an outsider’s point of view, without feelings derived from ego like guiltiness or self-destruction.  Yet the outsider is still you, so the emotions and tendencies sparked by conflicts with others, like pain and competition, are absent.  Think of it like balancing someone else’s checkbook; while you record great losses and great gains, you are not personally attached to those losses and gains, and therefore they do not matter to you.

Thus, you are joyful because reason discerns your soul’s Truth and balances it with your own experience in a noncompetitive and logical manner that separates you from your life’s great losses and gains.

 

Loving Compassion

If you maintain a feeling of compassion, loving kindness, then something automatically opens your inner door.  Through that, you can communicate much more easily with other people.  And that feeling of warmth creates a kind of openness.  You’ll find that all human beings are just like you, so you’ll be able to relate to them more easily.

– His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness (pg. 40)

While reason must be practiced in even the non-analytical mind, loving compassion taps into the very nature of human-ness.  We, as a human race, are infinitely bound together by certain characteristics and likenesses.  These can include things like the fact that every human on earth possesses a heart (or something that functions for it), a brain, and an ability to cogitate about the largest and smallest of matters.  However, Buddhism takes the argument one step further.  All things on Earth, beings and non-beings, are infinitely bound together.  This belief draws from Hinduism, in which all things are connected by karma and the reincarnation cycle. And it is proven (somewhat) by the comparison of genomes and proteins, living and non-living, in each creature and inanimate object on this Earth.  Thus, loving compassion strikes us at our very core; as we are tied to everything on Earth, we must live in consideration of that which is around us.  Otherwise, we will die.

And how does loving compassion tie to living in joy, you ask?  My reply is yet another question:  How can we live life fully if we do not, in some part, live it with and for others?  We have already seen in many ways thus far that our lives are not our own.  While we believe we have some semblance of control over our lives, we actually do not.  A sudden life-changing accident or a bout with long-term illness can tell us that.  But what we do know is that we do have control over our inner development, whether spiritual, emotional, or intellectual.  And the more we learn about ourselves, the more we realize our inherent ties and similarities to the rest of humanity.  Mahayana Buddhism teaches us to share our insight with others, for if we, as individuals, can reach an understanding of ourselves, then what greater understanding could we reach collectively!  Thus, in our loving compassion for others and their spiritual journeys, we find joy in our sharing of our gifts, talents, and increased understanding.  And if we continue to share authentically, our joy increases exponentially as we see our sharing help others to grow spiritually.

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On Living in Joy (From History’s Point of View: Jalal al-Din Rumi) – Part 6

 

An eye is meant to see things.

The soul is here for its own joy.

A head has one use: for loving a true love.

Legs: to run after.

-“Someone Digging in the Ground”, Book 8

(Most of this Intro is loosely paraphrased and all quotes are taken from Coleman Burks excellent volume The Essential Rumi)

For Jalal ad-Din Rumi, life was filled with prose, each moment poetic in some way.  He saw God as a Lover, and as a consequence wanted nothing more than to drown himself in God’s passion.  He was totally immersed in his search for God, and according to his poetry, incredibly joy-filled for doing so.  Yet how was his joy shown and where did it come from?  These are easy questions to answer if we only look to Rumi’s life and poetry. 

Rumi, a word that literally means “from Roman Anatolia”, was born Jelaluddin Balkhi on September 30, 1207, in Balkh, Afghanistan, which then was part of the Persian empire.  His family emigrated to Konya, Anatolia [modern Turkey], under threat of invasion from the Mongol armies sometime during his late childhood.  His father was a sheikh, or master, of a Muslim order, the members of which were called dervishes, or persons who are “poor in spirit”.  When his father died, Rumi succeeded his father in the position of sheikh in the dervish learning community in Konya.  His life seems to have been a fairly normal one until the late fall of 1244, when he met the wandering dervish Shams of Tabriz, with whom he became inseparable.  Their relationship became one of the great friendships in history.  They spent months together in vibrant conversation without appeasing human needs.  When Rumi’s students began to complain about their teacher’s neglect, Shams disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.  At this point, Rumi became a mystic poet.  His poetry became his conversation with God, the dervish community, and Shams.  When Rumi and Shams met again, they fell at each other’s feet, humbling themselves to one another, and took up the mystical conversation once again.  Shams stayed at Rumi’s home and married a young girl in his household.  On the night of December 5, 1248, as Rumi and Shams were talking, Shams was called to the back door and was never seen again (he was most likely killed by Rumi’s son, Allaedin).  His mysterious disappearance consumed Rumi’s existence.  Rumi searched for Shams endlessly, even journeying to Damascus to look for him, but after months of disappointment, he realized that in his search for Shams, he was actually looking for himself, for they were the same.  At this point, the search ended and their union became complete.  (Barks, On Rumi)

Rumi’s poetry, the lyrical discussion of his and Sham’s union with each other and with God, became the centerpiece of his teachings and of Sufi tradition.  Three particular characteristics stand out for me in Rumi’s poetry: love, humility, and passion for the divine.  Let’s consider them one at a time.

 

Love

The minute I heard my first love story

I started looking for you, not knowing

how blind I was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.

They’re in each other all along.

-Book 8, pg. 106

Rumi’s life of joy was intricately enmeshed with his ability to love God and others.  This ability came directly from his fundamental belief that knowledge of God could only be experienced, not taught.  His poetry shows us that in order to truly connect with one another and more importantly, with God, we need to find our inherent loving nature within and allow that nature to pervade our entire being.  That love will bind us together and to God in a weaving that cannot be distorted.

Rumi’s poetry also suggests that love of self is not less important but less demanding than love of God and others.  We know our needs already and should not try to discern their meaning.  True meaning comes only from God revealing God’s nature within us.  Rumi’s love flowed from the meaning he found in his search for God.  This was also the source for his joy.  If his love was to ultimately show God’s Divine nature, then joy would have to intermingle with the love he felt and bestowed upon others.  His life’s joy would equate to his delight in loving another and in loving God.  Thus, only in his love for God and others would Rumi truly experience joy.  This explains Rumi’s constant attitude of loving devotion.  His life, filled with love, was consequently also filled with joy.

 

Passion for the Divine

In your light I learn how to love.

In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,

where no one sees you,

but sometimes I do,

and that sight becomes this art.

-Book 10, pg. 122

Rumi developed a sacred whirling dance for his students that allowed them to better experience the Divine within themselves and each other.  The dance, known only from the Sufi order – Mevlevi – in which it began, was intended to develop within the dancer such a riveting passion for the Divine that he would not know himself from the Divine.  Huston Smith, in his Introduction for Rumi’s poetry, states that in Rumi’s original version of the dance, the dancer circled a pillar in the mosque; with one hand cupped around the pillar, the dancer leaned back as he gyrated.  In later versions of the dance, the dancers formed a circle, then revolved first around a red sheepskin representing Rumi’s teacher, Shams of Tabriz, and then around Rumi himself.  The dancers whirled around with both arms extended, one palm cupped upward to receive God’s grace and the other cupped downward to empty that grace onto the world.  From the practice of this dance, Rumi’s disciples soon became known as the Whirling Dervishes.  (Barks, xii-xiii)

Because Rumi was a mystic, the experience of the Divine was only known from within his being.  The dance therefore speaks first from the outside in – in seeing split second fractions of each person’s face the dancer would understand the universality of God within all of us – then from the inside out, allowing the dancer to feel enmeshed with the Divine and with all of humankind all at once.  The dance was developed as part of Rumi’s meditative practice.  His ever present need to experience the Divine drove him mad with passion and the dance allowed him to vent that passion.  His poetry sprang from the dance, and the expressive dance sprang from the madness.

Humility

Humble living does not diminish.  It fills.

Going back to a simpler self gives wisdom.

-Book 13, pg.146

Dancing.  Poetry.  The spinning madness of the Whirling Dervishes.  Passion for the Divine within each one of us.  All of these were consuming aspects of Rumi’s life.  Yet, like Jesus, his humility before God and others may have been his greatest joy.  From his dancing, which specifically focused on the ways in which we are the same, to his poetry, which often showed how different we all are, his life sang of joy through simple living and avid respect for each human being.  Yet what were the facets of this humility that abounded in joyful living?  

To answer this question, we must first examine why Rumi was humble in the first place.  As I said earlier, Rumi was the Sufi spiritual master within his area.  His poetry was famous within his lifetime, spreading from his own disciples to many others within his land.  He created a dance that soon became synonymous with Sufism.  His disciples perfected the art of the dance, which they attributed completely to Rumi, and respectfully placed their master in the inner circle of their whirling.  Rumi had power and prestige, two characteristics most people crave incessantly, within his lifetime.  So why was he humble?

Rumi believed whole-heartedly that everything that occurred within his lifetime came from God.  Everything he thought of, including the dance and his poetry, was from God and was therefore God’s.  Part of Rumi’s humility came from the fact that he did not own the things that had made him famous.  God owned all that Rumi did, and Rumi held himself accountable to this ownership.  If Rumi lapsed into ownership, believing himself to be the source of all of his greatness, he simply drove the madness of his passion for God deeper into his psyche.  In the madness, he believed so completely that he could be one with God that he did not see anything else.  Everything he accomplished within his life was therefore a joint venture, with the ownership of the accomplishment residing on God’s side.

Imagine if you didn’t take credit for anything you did that was a positive influence in other’s lives or your own life.  How would you feel?  Probably pretty joyful or pretty depressed, depending on which way you look at it.  If you look at this kind of ownership from a point of view that springs from a desire to please yourself, then you’d probably be pretty depressed if you couldn’t take credit for your positive accomplishments.  You did the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual work to accomplish these things; why shouldn’t you take the credit for them?  Yet, if you look at ownership from a point of view that springs from a desire to please God, then you’d probably be pretty joyful in your lack of ownership.  Your joy would reside in your knowledge that God was the source of your positive accomplishments and really deserved the credit for them anyway.  Taking this latter point of view could allow you to live in fame and riches, but not own either since your accomplishments only exist for the glory of God.  At a moment’s notice, if you believed God wanted you to, you could give up everything you had accomplished.  This, I believe, was exactly how Rumi felt about his life.  Thus, Rumi lived in humility and in joy because his attitude towards ownership decreed it.

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On Living in Joy (From History’s Point of View: Jesus Christ) – Part 5

“I am the way and the truth and the life…If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (NIV John 14:6-7) 

 While he is often revered as having been one of the most, if not the most, influential characters in history, Jesus was probably my most controversial choice for this particular topic.  Many people would say that he lived his life spiritually, even religiously, but I doubt many people would say he lived his life in joy.  Indeed, for a man so influential throughout time, Jesus’s life was extremely short (he was crucified at 33), his death was exceedingly painful, and his daily life was filled with sacrifice.  He seems too somber a figure to include on short list of historical figures who lived in joy.  Yet Jesus is a perfect example of how living in joy can be measured in many different ways. 

From a historical standpoint, we know very little about Jesus’s life.  What we do know comes from four writers, all of whom we know only on a first name basis, who wrote descriptive accounts of his life.  While stories within their accounts conflict at times, they present the overall view of a man who lived his beginning years as a normal Jewish child and his later years as a teacher, healer, and nomad (there’s a huge gap in the middle of which we know nothing).  In the later years, he is depicted as a compassionate man, who worked endlessly to heal humanity from itself.  Why do I believe, then, that Jesus lived his life in joy?  Because his strength of character and his boundless energy stemmed from a source of power that allowed him to touch people deeply, although he often knew them for a very short time.  I believe this source of power was in fact an internal happiness he had found within himself and God.

And how exactly did Jesus tap into this source of power, which he labeled as “The Spirit of Truth” (i.e. “The Holy Spirit”) and “God’s love”?  First and foremost, before I speak to the question, let me clarify it.  The source of power seemed to flow through him, welling up inside him and spilling into everything he did.  The reason why I want to clarify this is because the former wording implies that he had to act in order to gain the source of power that allowed him to live in joy; the latter wording, because it is passive, does not.  Jesus did not have to do anything to enable God’s love to flow through him.  All he had to do was be.

Two key characteristics arose in Jesus’s life as a result of his living in joy.  These two are attitudes: servanthood and acceptance.  While the characteristics servanthood and acceptance do not in any way encompass all of the person Jesus was, they do shed some light on the result of living one’s life in joy.  They also give us some insight into how people perceived Jesus during his time and how some people perceive him to this day.  What these characteristics were and how they linked to his joy will be the subjects of our further discussion.

 

Servanthood

If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (NIV Mark 9:35)

Teaching.  Healing.  Feeding crowds of thousands.  Counseling.  Praying and meditating for the benefit of others and himself.  Dying in sacrifice for humanity.  Everything Jesus did in his life seemed to be linked to his humility, which was an outward sign of his attitude of servanthood.  His humility flooded his every word and action, from his teachings to his healing of others.

Repeatedly, his followers tried to label him a “god”.  He repeatedly denied these labels, ever pointing to God, his Father, as the divine being who drove his life.  He even went so far as to deny being “good”.  When a ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit the eternal life?” (Luke 18:18), Jesus first dealt with the label of “good”.  He replies:  “No one is good – except God alone” (Luke 18:19).  Jesus’s denial of these labels shows his obedient attitude; his master was God, and he spent his life serving God and the other people whom he met.

Jesus also showed an attitude of servanthood in his rejection of any recognition.  He regularly healed invalids, the sick and even the dead, but he took no credit for these.  He taught thousands of people about salvation, but would not allow any one of them to pay him or give him anything in return.  The only reward he sought was from God.

Now, how does joy fit into Jesus’s attitude of servanthood?  Well, here’s what I think.  Jesus’s life shows that he was devoid of ego; his attitude of servanthood was an outpouring of this hollowed self.  The source for all actions was from God.  Jesus allowed God to move through him, to pervade his every thought and action.  Therefore, everything he did was according God’s will.  His joy came from the knowledge that he was constantly fulfilling God’s will for his life.  Every action he performed spoke to this joy.  He was filled with joy everyday of his life because he knew that what he was doing was exactly what he should be doing with his life according to God’s will.  Wouldn’t we all be joyful if we knew the same?  Jesus’s attitude of servanthood is a testament to his life in joy.  By serving others, he was, in fact, propagating his own joy.

 

Acceptance

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.  If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (NIV Luke 6:27-31)

Acceptance was a vital part of Jesus’ life.  Whether Jew or Gentile (i.e. anyone who was not Jewish), rich or poor, Jesus accepted each person with whom he came into contact graciously.  Yet his acceptance flowed deeper than ethnicity or socio-economic status.  He accepted each person fully, without any kind of constraint or boundary placed upon it.  Thus, his acceptance, like his love of humanity, was unconditional.  He was completely oblivious to individual past histories, sins, or denials; he was only interested in the present.  Even the way in which a person behaved in the present didn’t really condition his acceptance or love.  A perfect example of this idea comes from Mark 6:45-56.  This passage speaks to a massive storm that comes while the disciples are fishing in a boat on the sea.  They become frightened as the storm rages and as they see a man walking on the water.  It is Jesus, of course, and he is walking on the water to calm the storm.  Until they realize the man is Jesus, though, they are completely terrified.  This story perfectly illustrates Jesus’s acceptance of his disciples, who were his closest companions.  After following him for many years, seeing endless miracles and hearing his words describing his relationship with both God and man, they were still afraid when they saw him.  The disciples’ fear must have disappointed Jesus greatly because it must have seemed like they just didn’t understand what he had been talking about for so long.  Even though he knew that each of the disciples had the ability to walk on water and calm the storm as well, they were too afraid to try.  Yet his acceptance and love was readily available to them, as it had always been, reaching outward with widespread hands, touching each disciple with insight into the love God must bestow on humankind.

Acceptance was directly linked with joy in Jesus’s life.  Acceptance allowed him to transcend class and cultural identity; he did not need to worry about who to love and who not to love.  His love was for all.  Thus, his life in joy partly derived from his acceptance for everyone; no one was excluded from his inner sanctum of truth.  He could be all that God wanted him to be – a state of mind that brought Jesus great joy – because he did not need to worry about the world’s perception of him or his perception of the world.  His attitude of unconditional acceptance and love and living in the present gave him the joy he lived in his life.

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On Living in Joy (A Working Definition for “Living in Joy”) – Part 4

What do I mean when I say that humans have the capacity to live in joy?  When I think deeply about this phrase, I am reminded of an experience I had when I was a young girl.  My dad, who at that time worked as the Commander of the Allied Student Battalion on Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX, had come home from work after a particularly hard day.  My mom was furious (again) at my teenage sister, who in turn was, of course, furious at my mom, and they had slammed themselves into their separate bedrooms.  I was in the living room, desperately waiting for dad to come home to resolve the situation.  I could tell that he was dead tired, and now he had the whole mother-daughter situation to figure out and smooth over.  Yet even in the midst of all of this, he still had a smile on his lips.  My dad had been like this for as long as I could remember.  He was happy no matter what he was doing or what happened to him.  I finally asked him what made him smile.  He simply said, “No one can destroy my happiness.”  At the time, I thought that meant that he wasn’t going to the resolve the situation with my mom and sister because it might destroy his happiness.  Indeed, I was wrong and the situation was resolved within fifteen minutes.  It was only later in life that I finally realized that his answer was, in fact, his credo.  “No one can destroy my happiness.”

When I rephrase this sentence, I am struck by another phrase I saw on a bookmark once.  The phrase was in fact a paraphrase of the Buddha’s desired outcome of the Eightfold Path – happiness: “There is no way to happiness; Happiness is the Way.”  I think both of these illustrations talk to the same issue.  Happiness is a way of life – an attitude, not a goal or a priority.  Although happiness has come to mean superficial joy in modern society – such as the joy you experience when you buy something at a store – I am using happiness as a way to say “living in joy”.  In this essay, I will use the two somewhat interchangeably, even though I perceive the word “joy” in today’s world to denote something more deeply felt than happiness.  Yet, getting back to the task at hand, what does the word “happiness” or the phrase “living in joy” truly mean?

In our modern materialistic society, happiness is often thought of as the emotion you feel once you’ve procured more material things, such as a new CD or more money.  For some individuals, happiness is irreverently tied to material wealth.  “The more money you have,” so the old adage goes, “the happier you are.”  This is a superficial definition of happiness at best.  Happiness is more than material wealth.  Happiness can encompass many different aspects of the same idea.  Happiness can result from exhilaration, entertainment, achievement of personal goals, joy of being with friends, or even a loving relationship with a significant other.  Yet these ways of being happy do not describe the kind of happiness I mean.  The happiness I am talking about comes only from within.  It supplies itself.  It is detached, independent, and self-sufficient.  It can exist perfectly whether there are many people or no one around.  It pervades each thought, feeling, and action to such a degree that everything you think, feel, say or do results from the happiness inside you.  If practiced regularly, it can become Hindi infinite bliss, Buddhist enlightenment, or Christian perfection.

The happiness I’ve tried to define may very well be the most elusive pursuit of the human race.  Many individuals have tried to attain happiness and have fallen short throughout history.  The ironic thing about the seeming elusiveness of happiness is that it is already inside of us.  This happiness was in abundant supply when we were babies and small children.  To tap into this life-giving happiness we need to eliminate the obstacles within ourselves that are blocking our ability to be happy.  This may sound easy on paper, but it really isn’t for most of us.  The human psyche has an amazing way of making the simplest things difficult.

NOTE:  While this definition may not include all of the aspects of happiness you believe there to be, remember that it is a WORKING definition.  I invite you to modify, argue, converse, agree with the ideas in this essay…whatever will bring you into a conversation on living in joy.  The point is to give you a beginning sketch of happiness to work from; it is up to you to rework the sketch so it better fits you.

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On Living in Joy (A Listing of Assumptions and Biases) – Part 3

To believe that one does not have biases or assumptions when one writes any kind of work denotes an ignorance of one’s own experience.  It’s a given that this essay will be biased; all essays are biased in some way.  But to let you, the reader, understand right at the beginning what those biases are seems only fair and forthright.  The same goes for assumptions.  Therefore, let us begin.

My biases are as follows:

  1. I was raised in the Christian tradition and therefore look at everything through a Christian lens.  No matter how hard I try, I cannot escape this bias as it is my primary starting point for looking at any spiritual or religious matter.  In fact, it was while my mom was attending Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX that my love affair with religious and spiritual issues began.  Therefore, Christianity is my most basic bias.
  2. Along the same lines, I am also a religious mystic. Webster’s Dictionary defines mysticism as “the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight).” For me this means that instead of looking at religious/spiritual topics from an outer (i.e. the world and more specifically, one’s immediate community) to an inner (i.e. within one’s self) perspective (as do most religious adherents), I look at religious/spiritual topics from an inner to outer perspective.
  3. My education has been as a scientist, specifically a chemist.  I tend to look at spiritual issues through a scientific lens as well.  While this may seem contradictory to the last bias, it really isn’t; I see religious/spiritual issues as intuitive and reasoned at the same time.  As a result, I tend to treat my beliefs and my writings as working hypotheses that come from my own spiritual development.  These hypotheses can therefore be modified or even changed depending on the strength of outside arguments and how those arguments resound with my inner spirituality.  This is, of course, NOT to say that I am not passionate about my current beliefs.  I just know that my current beliefs are not the end-all, be-all of all things.
  4. I am a teacher.  I use every opportunity I can to try and relate ideas, as I understand them, in some didactic way.  It is something that comes very naturally to me and sometimes is to my detriment because teaching assumes expertise in the subject being discussed.  As I said before, although I may have some expertise in this field, I am not an expert.  I think only someone who is truly enlightened is an expert in the field.  And I am not the Dalai Lama.  So for the purposes of this essay, I am trying desperately not to allow my teaching self to interfere.  But I make no promises.
  5. I am an extrovert.  In every sense of the word.  One of my greatest joys is to converse with people about spiritual matters.  Thus, I am writing this essay in a conversational tone because I truly believe that I am conversing with you, the reader.  I believe that conversation allows us to form ideas, explain perspectives, and draw insights.
  6. I am a determined optimist.  My viewpoint of all things spiritual and religious comes from a foundational belief that humans are inherently good and are capable of living in joy.  Thus, the title of this essay states its aim as well.  Not only do I truly believe that we can all find eternal joy in our lives but I also believe eternal joy is already within us.  All we need to do is realize it.

My assumptions are as follows:

  1. I am assuming that this essay will be a conversation about living in joy, not a biography.  I am not going in depth into each of the historical figures’ life stories as I believe it detracts from the intention of this essay.  Likewise, I will not describe them from a religious viewpoint that stems from the tradition each historical figure founded or enhanced.  I believe religious viewpoint is an entirely personal interpretation of corporate ideas and thoughts.  Since we live within our own religious traditions, whether that tradition is imposed by societal or personal constraints, our interpretation changes regularly on a day-to-day basis.  In other words, for the millions of Christians living in the world today, there are millions of religious viewpoints that differ slightly and that are changing rapidly.  To try and capture one of these or a conglomerate of them in an essay is to lessen their value; they are already archaic by the time they have been written down.  In short, this essay is neither a narrative of the historical figures’ lives nor a corporate religious interpretation of their thoughts.
  2. I am assuming that you are open to the possibility of learning more about your own spirituality.  This essay is not intended to tell you “how to” live in joy (i.e. this is not “An Idiot’s Guide to Living in Joy”).  It is intended to relate my perception of how others have lived in joy and to spark the conversation within your heart as to how you might start or continue to live your life in joy.  To that end, I have included an extensive bibliography at the end of the essay, citing not only books that I have cited or used as references, but also books that I have found helpful in determining my own life in joy.
  3. I am assuming you will take the information as I offer it – with thoughtful skepticism.  I am not the resident expert in this field and do not have all the answers.  The primary sources I am using to describe the figures in this essay are often descriptive accounts (i.e. The Bible).  In some cases, such as for Krishna, my primary source is an epic poem (The Bhagavad Gita).  Therefore, this essay is not the definitive work on these figures nor is it the definitive work on spirituality or living in joy.  It is only a conversation starting point.

 

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On Living in Joy (Author’s Note) – Part 2

When, in the course of one’s life, one finds herself writing an essay on matters such as “living in joy”, many questions immediately spring to mind, such as “What’s my purpose for writing this?” and “Do I really have any expertise whatsoever in the subject area?”  To entertain the first question, my purpose for writing this essay is two-fold.  First, I believe we need to be reminded that it is possible to have a lifestyle that involves constant joy.  Modern society, with all of its technological charms, has surreptitiously trapped us into working longer hours and spending less time by ourselves and with those close to us.  The regular stresses of work coupled with the stress of being overworked makes true joy – boundless in its enthusiasm and endless in its lightening of the heart and mind – less and less of an actual reality.  The result is that living in joy, even if your job is particularly “joy-filled”, is a hard concept for us to integrate into everyday life.  We have, in a sense, lost some of the natural ability to live in joy we may have possessed at a different age or time.

Second, I believe we, at a very basic level, want insight into our own natural ability to live in joy.  This kind of joy is inherently spiritual in nature and derives from our already existent spirituality.  If I were to state the former idea in another way, I would say that we want to know ourselves well enough to be able to live in joy even in the midst of life conditions that may slowly eat away at our joy.  I think this concept is evidenced by the vast popularity of self-help books, especially those with a spiritual bent.  We live in a “can do” society where spirituality falls in line with the many other things we desire.  We believe we can achieve spirituality easily.  We all know that if you do not expand your knowledge to include the newest and greatest information relevant to your career area, you will never survive the rigors of today’s working world, where jobs seem to come and go as easily as the tide.  Our reasoning says, “Why should matters of the soul be any different?”  This is where some self-help books step in, feeding us a simple formula we hope we will be able to use to succeed in the field of our own spirituality.  I think spirituality must be somewhat more complicated; otherwise, we’d all be enlightened (or we’d at the very least realize that we already are).

However, I do think self-help books, probably according to their original intention, can help jumpstart our own internal discussion (as well as possible external discussions) on our lives and our spirituality, which will allow us to succeed if we think and talk and meditate/pray about it enough.  Thus, the intention of this essay is to restart the internal discussion on spirituality within the hearts of its readers once again.

As for the second question, “Do I really have any expertise whatsoever in the subject area?”, I quite frankly have no idea.  After all, this is a subject that great minds throughout the ages have talked about, but have hardly ever accomplished.  If expertise arises from talking about the subject matter constantly, studying material that relates to the subject matter, and trying to live in such a way that incorporates the subject matter, then I believe I may have some as I have continually tried to do all three of these things throughout the past thirteen years.

However, if an academic degree in the field at hand is the only thing that qualifies as expertise or, more appropriately for this essay, enlightenment is the only thing that qualifies as expertise, then I am afraid I have neither currently, although I am constantly working towards the latter.

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On Living in Joy (Series Intro) – Part 1

I wrote my credo as an essay in liminal space – after college, but before my first serious job. I was inspired to do so by the fact that my mother – a retired Methodist (UMC) minister – had written her own credo as basically her Masters of Divinity thesis within my freshman year of high school. I spent some significant time on it, mainly because I was bored and needed a writing project, but also because I was inspired by mysticism and it’s growing place in my life. I titled it “On Living in Joy” because that was my most fundamental belief – that joy could be achieved within this lifetime and that it was already within reach. My editor (my mom) thought that title invoked thoughts of a treatise, and thus she urged me to change it to “A Conversation on Living in Joy”, which helped describe the intent of the book as a conversation between both the author (myself) and the reader (you), and either the author or reader and God, whatever we conceptualize God to be in this moment.

I recently came upon “A Conversation on Living in Joy” again (after more or less forgetting about it), and I realized that had I wrote this book in a time when blogs were more prominent, I would have completely written this book via blog. And while I’ve privately self-published this book for mainly family and a few friends via lulu.com, I think it’s time I shared it more broadly, if only to help my own internal dialogue progress cyclically (as it oft does). A chapter a week is my current format, although that could be changed if some reader wants it more quickly or slowly (a reader – God forbid!).

And now, the first installment of “A Conversation on Living in Joy”…

In my words, Lord,

Let it be-

That they should grow

In likeness to thee.

 

In my heart, Lord,

Let me hear-

Compassion for those

I hate or fear.

 

In my eyes, Lord,

Let me see-

A world of peace

That begins with me.


Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. A Listing of Assumptions and Biases
  3. A Working Definition for “Living in Joy”
  4. From History’s Point of View – Individuals Who Have Lived in Joy Throughout Time…
  • Jesus Christ
  • Jelaluddin Rumi
  • The Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakyas)
  • Lord Krishna
  • Abraham
  • Lao Tzu
  1. What Living in Joy Has Meant for My Life
  2. Conclusion
  3. Resources

 

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